Trade tensions between the U.S. and China are about more than trade. They are about culture, anxieties, and in particular, they aren’t about China at all, Frank Wu, professor at University of California Hastings College of Law, shared his personal view on the issue during a lecture at a Beijing think tank on Wednesday.
Frank Wu, professor at University of California Hastings College of Law, lectures at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing on June 27, 2018. [Photo by Li Xiaohua / China.org.cn]
China-US trade tension "is a symptom, not the disease, it is just one small piece of something much, much bigger," said Wu during his keynote speech at the Center for China and Globalization.
Wu is also president of the New York-based Committee of 100, an influential non-profit membership organization in the Chinese-American community in the U.S.
Wu admitted it might seem funny to say that the rhetoric directed at China isn’t about China. He went on to explain that it’s also about what’s happening inside America, about American domestic politics. The key to understanding the rhetoric is to look beyond the rhetoric -- with U.S. mid-terms quickly approaching, it’s important for candidates to appeal to their voter base.
"China is being blamed for America’s internal problems, along with Mexicans, Muslims, and now shockingly Canadians," Wu said.
According to Wu, part of the trade deficit is driven on the American side by consumer spending habits, with America now a debtor nation. "Those who say it’s better not to deal with China don’t realize that if China stopped buying American debt, the American economy would collapse. It would be terrible for America and Americans if China sought to disengage and didn’t continue to prop up the U.S. economy through the purchase of treasury bills," he said.
Wu also applauded China’s leadership and its people for what they have accomplished. However, he said that China’s rise is also threatening for Americans who are accustomed to seeing China as an impoverished and struggling third world nation.
"They aren’t accustomed to seeing China as a global power. They see China as a challenging force in Africa with the Belt and Road Initiative, in the South China Sea, and elsewhere. Not just in terms of trade, but in terms of influence, soft power, in terms of culture, in every way, China is rising," said Wu, "and China’s rise affects American perception.”